5 posts from June 2015

June 29, 2015

Places, Spaces, and Soundscapes

Charles Carson (The University of Texas at Austin)

Like any good farce, the 1983 comedy Trading Places opens with an overture.

 

 

In this case, it is the overture to Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro—slightly amended, yet still recognizable. Mozart’s overture accompanies the opening credits of the film, which feature an extended montage of a waking city. Commuters board busses and trains on their way to work, traffic flows into the city along busy freeways, shopkeepers restock shelves and unlock doors, and butchers, grocers, and fishmongers prepare their wares for the day ahead. All of this activity dances to the strains of one of Mozart’s most popular orchestral works.

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June 22, 2015

Intentional Inauthenticity: Performing Disabled Bodies, Disabled Bodies Performing

Andrew Dell’Antonio (University of Texas at Austin)

Operatic bodies, like the sounds they dramatize, are generally meant to be beautiful. But like other cultural forms, opera is also used to explore society's concern with the abnormal, its fear of and fascination with bodies that deviate from a culturally framed “ordinary.” Music-and-disability scholar Blake Howe—whose summary of the relevance of disability readings to music is still the most articulate and useful online resource on the topic—curates an extraordinary database of musical depictions of disability, and operatic roles comprise a large and varied component of that database.

As with gender, various kinds of bodily configurations have been understood differently in different historical and geographical circumstances, and musicians have helped to shape those understandings while also working within them. Each body (and thus every operatically performed body) has unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are understood as compatible with the individual's social role or with the “authentic” performance of a character, while others are perceived as problematic. For example, a character might wear eyeglasses with no influence on the dramatic flow of the opera, despite the visual impairment that is either acted or real, because eyeglasses are common enough prosthetic devices in contemporary society that they pass unnoticed (or might make a character/singer look bookish, nerdy, or intelligent). Indeed, a singer’s visual impairment might be completely invisible to the audience through the use of contact lenses. But other bodily differences are more explicitly displayed and understood as significant by audiences and artists alike.

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Hyperlistening

Tyler K. Cassidy-Heacock (Rochester, NY)

 

Nicola Baroni playing his own compositions, as well as music by Cage and Stockhausen, on the hypercello.

 

A cellist sits on stage. As he plays, the instrument produces music that no typical cello could. That’s because he’s playing a hypercello, a technologically augmented instrument that interprets the movements of the performer so that his bowing and plucking produce both acoustic and electronic sounds. The hypercello is just one of a variety of “expanded musical instruments” that make it possible for skilled players to create even more unique and striking music. Though they are certainly experimental compared with standard musical instruments, the blending of sounds that hyperinstruments accomplish is something we also hear in other contemporary genres, like acoustic chamber music and heavy metal. Hyperinstruments challenge and affect us as listeners, and the sounds they produce are becoming part of our musical norm, perhaps even turning us into hyperlisteners.

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June 8, 2015

Musical Virtuosity

Travis D. Stimeling (West Virginia University)

When I was in my late teens and early twenties and was aspiring to a career as a professional musician, I surrounded myself with as many examples of excellent playing as possible. This meant that I sought out recordings of musicians who challenged the boundaries of their instruments and their own bodies, performing at extreme tempi, dynamics, and ranges. As I listened to musicians such as trombonists Joe Alessi and Christian Lindberg and euphonium players such as Robert Childs, I found myself simultaneously inspired by their talents and frustrated by my inability to come close to the standards they set, even as I was learning the same repertoire that they had helped to make famous. Rather than seeing their work as the product of years of practice (in some cases, more years than I had been alive), I began to believe these musicians were superhuman. I spoke of their work in hushed tones to sympathetic peers, but I found myself increasingly discouraged, all that practice time yielding the musicality of a mere mortal. 

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June 1, 2015

Joe Hill Returns: Labor Movements and Protest Music

Felicia Miyakawa (Round Rock, TX)

 

Joan Baez performs “Joe Hill” at the Occupy Wall Street Veteran’s Day rally, November 11, 2011.

 

In 2011, singer Joan Baez performed the song “Joe Hill” for a Veteran’s Day rally sponsored by Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in New York City that same year in response to widespread financial corruption at banks and corporations. Baez has long been known for her work as an activist; although she might be new to younger generations, her voice is still respected at protests. The assembled crowd was clearly familiar with her song choice, but for those who may not have known all the words, she spoke each line of the final verses before inviting them to join in. Protest music as a communal activity depends entirely on the audience’s familiarity with the song and its willingness to sing along.

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Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis

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